David Lancashire, a Canadian hired by The Associated Press in 1956 to become the first North American reporter to cover Mao Zedong’s China and defy a U.S. travel ban, has died. He was 76.
Lancashire died Monday in Toronto of a heart attack, his family said Thursday.
Going to China for AP, he spent six weeks traveling more than 5,000 miles through what was then known in the West as “Red China” and produced a lengthy series of stories on life behind the “Bamboo Curtain.”
It was the first reporting from China by a North American journalist since the communist takeover in 1949 and it created a sensation.
The State Department had refused AP permission to send an American correspondent to China and threatened serious sanctions. AP’s board of directors then sent Lancashire, arguing that Americans had a right to learn through their own news organizations about conditions in China.
In a prescient story date Dec. 15, 1956, written from Hong Kong after his departure from the mainland, Lancashire wrote that China’s goal was to equal the industrial power of the United States by the turn of the millennium.
“Red China today is an immense machine with 600 million moving parts, running at top speed,” he wrote. “Its 600 million individuals are sacrificing individually at Communist behest in an all-consuming drive to change a backward, poverty ridden nation into a modern state.”
Over the following 20 years, Lancashire reported for AP from trouble spots across Asia and the Middle East, covering the communist insurgency in Laos, a Kurdish revolt in Iraq, the Mideast war of 1973 and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“He was one of the finest foreign correspondents I knew, a man of enormous courage, curiosity and openness to all things foreign, a gentleman and friend to all who knew him,” said Marcus Eliason, a fellow AP reporter and now an editor for the news service in New York.
Lancashire left AP in 1976 to join the Globe and Mail of Toronto as a feature writer and editor. He retired in 1994.
His last story, published in the Globe last month, described a 1962 trip to Yemen, where he covered a revolution for AP that ended 1,100 years of monarchy.